January 14, 2009

The Devil in the White City

I don't read much non-fiction, but the premise of this book was too compelling to pass up. It follows two story-lines; one with Daniel Burnham and his struggles to complete the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and the other with H.H. Holmes, a serial killer who used the Fair to lure his victims. It displays many examples of American ingenuity from both men. The stories never quite touch, so some work would be needed to adapt this book to Hollywood to tie them together. But overall, this would make an excellent movie. There are quite a number of characters in this book, but few have much "face-time." This would allow most roles to be filled by unknowns or little known actors. There is already an adaptation in the works, once tied to Tom Cruise's production company. Creative differences stalled progress with the adaptation, but other parties are interested in the screenplay.

"Author Erik Larson imbues the incredible events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World's Fair with such drama that readers may find themselves checking the book's categorization to be sure that The Devil in the White City is not, in fact, a highly imaginative novel. Larson tells the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair's construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor. Burnham's challenge was immense. In a short period of time, he was forced to overcome the death of his partner and numerous other obstacles to construct the famous "White City" around which the fair was built. His efforts to complete the project, and the fair's incredible success, are skillfully related along with entertaining appearances by such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody, Susan B. Anthony, and Thomas Edison. The activities of the sinister Dr. Holmes, who is believed to be responsible for scores of murders around the time of the fair, are equally remarkable. He devised and erected the World's Fair Hotel, complete with crematorium and gas chamber, near the fairgrounds and used the event as well as his own charismatic personality to lure victims. Combining the stories of an architect and a killer in one book, mostly in alternating chapters, seems like an odd choice but it works. The magical appeal and horrifying dark side of 19th-century Chicago are both revealed through Larson's skillful writing." - Amazon.com review

Dramatis Personae

Daniel Craig as Daniel H. Burnham- Burnham was the chief architect and supervisor for building the Columbian World's Fair. He was known for his steady blue eyes that seemed to exude confidence. They only exception was with other famous architects; he was not granted entry into Harvard or Yale and his lack of formal education left him feeling unequal to architectual giants of the day.

Tom Cruise as H. H. Holmes- Holmes used his good looks and charm to lure women into his confidence. Much is made of his affectionate touches to an arm or shoulder. Back then, this was considered being forward and improper, but the women he preyed upon were new to the city and thought it exciting and progressive. He was only 5' 8" and 155 lbs, striking a small figure, but his dark hair, striking blue eyes, and confident bearing caused many women to notice him.

Bill Hader as Benjamin Pietzel- Holmes' right-hand man. He was said to have smooth features with a sharp chin and would have been considered handsome if not for a certain "hungry gauntness" and they way his eyelids covered the tops of his irises.

Robert Carlysle as John Root- Root was Burnham's partner and is often credited with being the creative side of their company. While always putting on a brave face, Root often struggled with depression and was often sick. He died of pneumonia before construction on the fair was completed.

Ian McKellan as Frederick Law Olmstead- Olmstead was the foremost landscape architect of the time. He also designed Central Park and the grounds of the Biltmore Estate in NC. His inclusion to the fair was pivotal for many reasons, not least of which was the weight his name brought to the project. He was nearing retirement while designing the Fair and often missed work due to health problems.

Colin Hanks as George Ferris- Something was needed to top the Eiffel Tower from the World's Fair in Paris to ensure the Chicago Fair was greater. In response, Ferris designed a great wheel from which people could ride and view the grounds from a great height, known as the Ferris Wheel.

John Goodman as Detective Frank Geyer- He "was a big man with a pleasant, earnest face, a large walrus mustache, and a new gravity in his gaze and demeanor." He is responsible for tracing Holmes' and searching for his victims, in order to prosecute him. ßPin It

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